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The French Connection
Elena Rubinova

B.Lavier Walt Disney

Pacific Blue Picasso

2004 Ligne blanche

or three months, French modern art will be all the rage in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Ekaterinburg, and other Russian cities. The public will be able to see the best works by Bernard Lavier, Claude Leveque and Annette Messager, the crème de la crème of French contemporary art.

At the turn of the 20th century, to think of modern art was to think Paris, Montparnasse, post-impressionism or the early days of cubism. It was, some say, French art that defined the art process for at least half a century before the center of contemporary art drifted to New York and later to London. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the 21st century, French modern art is strongly felt on the international art scene. Artists selected for the Moscow exhibitions fully represent this tendency.

From 21 May to 4 July, TSUM Art Foundation (, ul Petrovka, 2) is mounting an exhibition of Bertrand Lavier’s work. M Lavier is one of the most respected contemporary French artists of the older generation (born in 1949). The exhibition presents 13 works of different genres covering the artist’s creative work from the early 1980s. Painted objects, murals, video-art outline the whole landscape of Lavier’s works displayed in 2000 square metres of exhibition area.

“It took us a long time to make a decision what would be the best site for the future exhibition. Lavier came to Moscow several times to absorb the atmosphere of this city. He selected very provocative and unusual works for his Moscow show”, says Maria Kravtsova, curator of the exhibition.

Lavier often works with the signs and symbols of mass culture transforming them into something unrecognizable. He reacts to contemporary consumer fashions, but everything he does has a rare touch of intelligence and wit. Lavier inhabits the border between art and reality, finding his personal distinction between fine art and popular art. He is one of the few artists whom critics define as being both an intellectual and a popular artist at the same time. Lavier considers that his art brings together incompatible elements to create hybrids, and says he was influenced by his educational background in horticulture.

“If you combine an orange with a mandarin, you get a tangerine. Similarly, when I paint a piano or put a fridge on a safe, the result seems to float between two separate things. Under the layers of paint is the real piano, but you can also concentrate on the paint as paint. One could say that my works are like tangerines”, said Lavier in an interview.

His famous pieces about Walt Disney, created back in the 1980s or a Lips Sofa, which was produced on the basis of sketches by Salvador Dali, are considered iconic images of modern art. During his long and successful carrier, Lavier has exhibited at numerous international venues, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Gallery in London, the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and the Venice Bienniale.

The National Centre for Contemporary Art (, Zoologicheskays ul, 13) offers a huge installation by another, no less distinguished and prolific, French veteran artist, Claude Leveque (born in 1953). The installation, called Ende, from the FNAC collection, initially shown in 2001 in Yvon Lambert Paris gallery, has been recreated here in Moscow. It starts out as a typical installation: a black curtain waiting to be pushed aside. Follow it through and you’re led into a soft-walled, soft-floored, pitch black space. This is supposed to be what the total unknown feels like. One of Joe Dassin’s songs performed by Leveque’s mother is heard in total darkness. Leveque has participated in more than 90 group exhibitions. Last year represented France at the Venice Art Bienniale with the installation, The Great Evening (Le Grand Soir) that turned a national pavilion into a prison. Coming of age in the 1980s, Leveque became involved in gathering and manipulating objects, but he is neither a formalist nor a postmodernist in his attitude. Most of Claude Leveque’s work consists of large-scale installations that articulate objects, sounds and lights that take control of places and spectators. As the artist puts it: “I think that contemporary art can create a space of contrasts where things can be rediscovered, outside the consumerist obligations laid down by the degrading media, corrupted politicians and the vendors of games, houses and cars”.

He is famous for using unusual venues and sites, many of his works play on the ability to provoke visual and sensory emotions. The Moscow exhibition is open from 25 May to 22 June.


On 24 June, the Yekaterina Cultural Foundation (, Kuznetsky Most, 21/5) will host an exhibition of Annette Messager, France’s leading female artist. Playing on her surname, critics once called her “a bold messenger for feminist art”. She has been held this title for a long time; creating art works since the 1960s. She often incorporates photographs, prints and drawing into sculptural projects, fuses cuddly children’s toys with dangerous effigies thus reaching the hearts and feelings of numerous fans. She has been widely exhibited in solo and group exhibitions around the world and represented France at the Venice Bienniale in 2005, where she was awarded the Golden Lion.

Finally, from May 28 to July 25, Baibakov Art Projects ( Bersenevskaya Naberezhnaya 6) showcases a group exhibition called Perpetual Battles. It includes works by Thomas Hirschhorn, Saadane Afif, Cyprien Gaillard, Latifa Echakhch, and others.

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